Jan 10, 2023
Courage Under Fire: A Conversation with Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund
With the second anniversary of the January 6 Capitol attack, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and the National Liberty Museum joined in partnership to present an in-person conversation with former United States Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund, where he shared his personal account about the events leading up to that day and what has since come to pass.
About the Event
In a world that often feels clouded by mis- and disinformation, where social and political divides can feel overwhelming and consuming, it’s important to grapple with and reflect upon the ideas of truth and liberty.
With the second anniversary of the January 6 Capitol attack, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and the National Liberty Museum joined in partnership to present an in-person conversation with former United States Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund, where he shared his personal account about the events leading up to that day and what has since come to pass. In his book, Courage Under Fire: Under Siege and Outnumbered 58 to 1 on January, Chief Sund includes never-before-seen photographs and draws upon recordings, key documents, and government records in addition to his journey from his command post on January 6, 2021, to his testimony before the January 6 committee.
During the event, we spoke with Chief Sund about what January 6 meant for our nation and how we might find ways to build bridges across the social and political divides. We explored the importance of bipartisan cooperation when addressing our country’s most challenging and dark moments, and how we can preserve liberty—one of our founding ideals—for all people across the United States. We confront what truth is, and why—especially in times of crisis—it might not always be so easy to uncover.
The event began with Mr. Sund reflecting on the eerie similarities between the attack on the U.S. Capitol and the recent attack on the Brazilian Congress. He noted the parallel theories of the election being stolen and how social media encouraged this belief. He expressed concern that politicians no longer act like statesmen and that their irresponsible behavior encourages the rest of society to mimic partisanship. He identified fear-based media as a major problem and cause for the divide.
On the topic of truth, Mr. Sund described the difficulty posed to law enforcement when information sources become unreliable. In the days preceding the attack, the intelligence community severely underestimated the threat level, perhaps assuming that Americans would not attack fellow Americans. Despite the existence of 18 intelligence agencies, no executive meeting was arranged or joint intelligence bulletin with high threat assessments were issued to prepare law enforcement.
Mr. Sund explained the limitations on the Capitol police chief which slowed the response to the attack. Federal law requires congressional approval before calling in federal assistance. This requirement, in addition to an aversion to the bad optics of sending federal officers to Capitol, delayed the arrival of the National Guard until several hours after the attack had begun, even as they waited half a mile away. Mr. Sund added that the executive branch did not treat the call for the National Guard with appropriate attention and seriousness, which he considers a failure on the part of a president describing himself as a supporter of “law and order.”
Mr. Sund expressed concern that little change is occurring to implement the lessons of January 6. He hopes that his book will prompt a change in perspective, since the oversight system has not yet been modified and the Department of Defense maintains that its response was appropriate.
On the question of lethal force, Mr. Sund expressed his pride that officers showed restraint even in situations where it would have been legal for them to shoot. The police regards lethal force as a last resort, and Mr. Sund considers restraint to have been the best tactical and moral decision. He also indicated his appreciation that every officer performed their duty on January 6 regardless of political feeling. Mr. Sund emphasized that law enforcement must remain apolitical.
During the audience question component, Mr. Sund answered a question about teaching the youth how to engage in politics. He advocated teaching basic conversation skills and ability to disagree civilly. An audience member expressed the opinion that the response to January 6 was less rigorous than to Black Lives Matter protests. Mr. Sund disagreed and responded that over the summer of 2020, there were no arrests, use of force, or chemical emissions during the 12 protests, which reflects an appropriate professional response from the police in Washington, DC. When asked about the contributions of the DC Metropolitan Police, he indicated that without their aid the Capitol Police would have been overwhelmed and some Congress members likely would have died.